The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team held on for a 3-2 victory over East Stroudsburg University in a non-conference contest at Palisades Credit Union Park. The Spartans, ranked #3 in the East in this week's NCBWA poll, improved to 23-12 overall with ESU falling to 16-16-1. In the NCBWA National poll released on Tuesday, STAC narrowly missed the top 25, with points received in the polling placing them as the 29th team in the country.
Runs were hard to come by on the blustery afternoon, though STAC would break on top in the home 3rd on the strength of a Mark Shkrelja double and a Bobby Morse triple deep off the fence in straightaway center field.
Anthony Shkrelja turned in his second consecutive strong start, giving up a tough run in the 5th inning. Joey Paolina drew a four-pitch walk to lead off and, with one out, a seemingly harmless grounder resulted in Paolina taking advantage of a shifted infield and advancing all the way to third. That would prove big when he came home on a wild pitch to tie the score at 1-1.
East Stroudsburg helped the Spartans break back on top in the bottom half when reliever Tyler Stafurski walked the bases loaded, and Morse took advantage of a second life after a dropped foul ball with a sacrifice fly to center. The hosts added a big insurance run in the 8th when Giovanni Dingcong singled, stole second, and scored on a Chris Ruiz single.
That would prove to be crucial when closer George Navadel struggled in the 9th, walking the first two ESU batters before giving way to Chris Pennell. A daring double-steal put the tying runs in scoring position with nobody out, and a sac fly cut the gap to 3-2, but Pennell retired the last two batters to secure his first save of the season.
With five strong innings of work, Shkrelja allowed just one run on three hits while fanning six to improve to 2-1, with Stafurski being tagged with the loss. Four Spartan relievers combined to keep the Warriors hitless while allowing just the one run.
The Spartans return to East Coast Conference action for a big four-game weekend series against the University of Bridgeport, starting with a 7:00 pm start on Friday night at Palisades Credit Union Park. The series shifts to Harbor Yard for a Saturday twin-bill before closing on Sunday at 2:00 pm at PCU Park.